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Kent County’s ‘reverse eBay’ saves thousands on supplies

Downtown Grand Rapids
Steven Depolo
Creative Commons
Kent County's Adminstration building in downtown Grand Rapids.

Kent County is saving tens of thousands of dollars a year on supplies thanks to a customized online auction. The program is like the online auction site eBay in reverse.

When Kent County needs office supplies, like printer paper, it opens an auction online. It lists a maximum price it’s willing to pay based on previous bills. Vendors offer to sell the county printer paper at that price or lower.

The auction runs in real time so businesses can name a lower price if they’re outbid. The auction may last an hour or so but if there are last minute bids the time will extend. After ten minutes go by with no new offers, the lowest bid gets the county’s business.

“It’s so simple but I mean getting to where we got it took like 3 and a half years to build the foundation,” Kent County Administrator/Controller Daryl Delabbio said. The program has saved Kent County more than $200,000 in 2 years. The county has used it to buy office supplies, paper towels, soap for the county jail, even a car.

Delabbio said the program has also broadened its vendor base. “They probably don’t like the fact that it’s very competitive,” Delabbio said, “At the same time though they may be getting business where they didn’t before.”

Now the county has offered to host the auctions for cities, townships and neighboring counties for free. Delabbio says they can do that because the county hasn’t needed to add staff in the purchasing department. He says larger orders usually get every municipality a better price. There are private companies that offer similar services but they charge for the service.

An order includes shipping to multiple locations. Vendors instantly receive the order once they’ve won the auction.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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